It is not often that the Prime Minister is upstaged when he is guest of honour at an official function. It is even more unusual when it is one of his own MPs who is responsible. But this is just what happened when Sajid Javid, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and MP for Bromsgrove, spoke at the Conservative Friends of Israel “business lunch” on Tuesday.
This annual jamboree has grown from humble beginnings to become one of the key events of the year for supporters of Israel. And each year one of the MPs who has been on a CFI delegation reports back to the gathering of funders and fellow parliamentarians. Usually this is a rather bland “what I did on my holidays” routine, but this year it was different.
Mr Javid, who described himself as a “proud British-born Muslim”, announced that if he had to leave Britain to live in the Middle East, then he would choose Israel as home. Only there, he said, would his children feel the “warm embrace of freedom and liberty”. For him, only Israel shared the democratic values of the UK.
Such a speech would have been easy for almost every other MP in the room to make. Conservative MPS are a conventional bunch and support of Israel is expected of backbenchers (most of the parliamentary party was there on Tuesday). But, for a British Muslim, this was an extraordinary and courageous intervention in the world of Israel advocacy. The fact that Mr Javid no longer practises and is married to a Christian wife will make him more, not less of a target for Israel’s detractors within the Muslim community.
Mr Cameron’s speech was one of his better ones. The prime minister is always more comfortable on domestic issues and even in foreign affairs he prefers talking trade to the hard end of diplomacy. So he talked about the support Jewish philanthropists had given to the government’s education agenda by funding schools. And he celebrated growing trade links between Israel and Britain.
And, in recognition of the success of Israel’s hi-tech sector, he announced the appointment of venture capitalist Saul Klein as the UK’s first tech envoy to Israel.
But Mr Cameron did not avoid the difficult issues. He urged Israel and its supporters to embrace the Arab Spring and the democracy it brought with it, touched on the thorny issue of settlements and reiterated the UK government view that the time was not right for an Israeli military strike on Iran.
Despite the UK government’s anger at the Netanyahu government over settlement building, the relationship between the Israeli establishment and the Conservative Party remains strong.
This was obvious from the genuine warmth of the speech given by Israeli ambassador Daniel Taub, who pointed out that only CFI could arrange such a “truly remarkable show of support” for Israel.
But, in terms of support, it is Mr Javid’s that will lodge in the memory. One MP on my table whispered that the Bromsgrove MP was being touted as a future prime minister. “Of Britain or Israel?” someone quipped.